In an age of rapid social change, the Beatles were often regarded as prophets and every song was scrutinized for symbols and allusions that might contain a message. Who was the egg man in 'I Am The Walrus'? Was the tea that was mentioned in 'Lovely Rita' really marijuana? Was 'Henry The Horse' street slang for heroin?
The Beatles had perhaps laid themselves open to wild misinterpretation by mixing up the languages of poetry and nonsense. John, in particular, had enjoyed obfuscating his point of view beneath layers of imagery. However, by 1968, John was trying to write more directly and most of the work he brought back from India was simpler and less self-conscious. When a pupil from his old school wrote and asked him to explain the motives behind his songwriting, John replied that the work was done for fun and laughs. "I do it for me first," he said. "Whatever people make of it afterwards is valid, but it doesn't necessarily have to correspond to my thoughts about it, OK? This goes for anyone's 'creations', art, poetry, song etc. The mystery and shit that is built around all forms of art needs smashing anyway."
'Glass Onion' was a playful response to John to those who pored over his work looking for hidden meanings. He started to piece together the song using odd lines and images from some of the most enigmatic Beatles' songs - 'Strawberry Fields Forever', 'There's A Place', 'Within You Without You', I Am The Walrus', 'Lady Madonna', 'The Fool On The Hill' and 'Fixing A Hole'. In 'Glass Onion', he jokingly claimed that the walrus was Paul. (In some primitive cultures the walrus is a symbol of death and this new information was later used as confirmation by those who believed that Paul had been killed in a road accident in 1966, to be replaced by a double.) Finally, he came up with four new tantalizing images for his 'literary' fans to pore over - bent back tulips, a glass onion, the Cast-Iron Shore and a dovetail joint.
The bent back tulips, explains former Apple press officer Derek Taylor, was a reference to a particular flower arrangement in Parkes, a fashionable London restaurant in the Sixties. "You'd be in Parkes sitting around your table wondering what was going on with the flowers and then you'd realize that they were actually tulips with their petals bent all the way back, so that you could see the obverse side of the petals and also the stamen. This is what John meant about 'seeing how the other half lives'. He meant seeing how the other half of the flower lives but also, because it was an expensive restaurant, how the other part of the society lived."
There were simple explanations for the other perplexing references: the Cast-Iron as the Cassie); a dovetail joint referred to a wood joint using wedge shape tennons, and Glass Onion was the name John wanted to use for The Iveys, the band that signed with Apple in July 1968.
The Iveys didn't like the name Glass Onion and, instead, called themselves Badfinger after 'Badfinger Boogie', the original title of 'A Little Help From My Friends'.